Translating Myself and Others

Jhumpa Lahiri

Translating Myself and Others
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Translating Myself and Others

Jhumpa Lahiri

Translating Myself and Others is a collection of candid and disarmingly personal essays by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, who reflects on her emerging identity as a translator as well as a writer in two languages.

With subtlety and emotional immediacy, Lahiri draws on Ovid’s myth of Echo and Narcissus to explore the distinction between writing and translating, and provides a close reading of passages from Aristotle’s Poetics to talk more broadly about writing, desire, and freedom. She traces the theme of translation in Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and takes up the question of Italo Calvino’s popularity as a translated author. Lahiri considers the unique challenge of translating her own work from Italian to English, the question Why Italian?, and the singular pleasures of translating contemporary and ancient writers.

Featuring essays originally written in Italian and published in English for the first time, as well as essays written in English, Translating Myself and Others brings together Lahiri’s most lyrical and eloquently observed meditations on the translator’s art as a sublime act of both linguistic and personal metamorphosis.


Admirers of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work might mistakenly think that working in languages other than English was a new direction for her, but as she recounts in Translating Myself and Others, when she was writing her wonderful short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, she was in fact already translating her character’s thoughts and dialogue from Bengali into English. Lahiri is drawn to the act of translation, and writers who ‘lived, read, thought and worked among different languages’. Translating informs her writing: ‘[it] shows [her] how to work with new styles and forms, how to take greater risks’ and how ‘translating goes under the skin and shocks the system’.

Translating Myself and Others concentrates on her work with Italian, which transformed her linguistic landscape: ‘[the language] did not simply change my life; it gave me a second life, an extra life’. She has taught subjects on translation at Princeton University since 2015, and, in addition to writing and translating her own novel Dove Mi Trovo (Whereabouts), has translated three excellent novels by Domenico Starnone – Ties, Trick and Trust – and The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories, which was extremely popular with Readings customers a few summers ago. In this collection of essays, Lahiri gives insights into her processes, as well as penetrating and perceptive thoughts on the act of translating that will be especially illuminating for readers who enjoy translated works.

In one essay, Lahiri finds an analogy between writer and translator in Ovid’s treatment of Narcissus and Echo in Metamorphoses – a work that Lahiri is currently translating. In this essay she muses on how the translator is often required to erase themselves, revealing how she herself was criticised for writing a prologue to her translations of Starnone’s novels. But she argues that while a translation will always be subordinate to the original text, the ‘ongoing, updated echo of translation is critical to sustaining great works of literature, to celebrating and spreading their significance across space and time’.

Joe Rubbo is the operation manager at Readings

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